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Netanyahu Backs Major Expansion of Jerusalem

City would include four large Jewish settlements in Jerusalem

Amid efforts to lessen the level of tension in Jerusalem surrounding the holy site that Jews call the Temple Mount and Muslims, the Haram al-Sharif, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that supports a proposal to absorb four West Bank Jewish settlements and a bloc of other communities into Jerusalem.

At the same time the proposal calls for Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem that are outside the barrier that Israel began building in 2000 to be removed from the city’s census and to be part of a new municipality.

Netanyahu expressed support for the plan, which in effect would annex these large settlements to Jerusalem, and increase the Jewish population of Jerusalem, after Israeli lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require a special two-thirds majority of the Knesset to relinquish any part of Jerusalem as part of a peace accord with the Palestinians.

“This bill was designed to protect the unity of Jerusalem in the face of delusional, messianic steps form the left side of the (political) map,” Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the hardline Jewish Home party, the author of the bill told reporters after it passed its first reading. “It prevents the possibility of concessions in Jerusalem, even parts (of the city). Jerusalem will not be on the negotiating table.”

The second bill, which was initiated by Likud MK Yoav Kisch and backed by Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz says that residents of the four settlements in question – Maalei Adumim, Givat Zeev, Beitar Illit and Efrat, along with the Etzion bloc of settlements. All of these are areas that many Israelis believe will become part of Israel in any eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.

There are about 130,000 Israelis living in these areas. The proposal states that the residents would continue to be part of independent regional councils as well as Jerusalem. Kisch said they would vote in four local elections: for Jerusalem mayor, for a Jerusalem municipality council, for the head of their regional council and for members of a regional council.

Palestinians have long maintained that Israel must withdraw from all settlements in the West Bank, as Israel withdrew from all of the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for the peace treaty with Egypt. Privately, some Palestinians have said they would be willing to consider land swaps in which Israel would keep a small proportion of the West Bank in exchange for giving the Palestinians an equal proportion of what is now land in Israel.

These settlements are built in the 60 percent of the West Bank called Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under sole Israeli control and where all Jewish settlements are built. The rest of the West Bank is Area A, which is about 18 percent of the West Bank and includes the large Palestinian population centers including Ramallah and Nablus and Area B, mostly Palestinian villages, under joint control.

Palestinians said this new proposal, if passed, would make a two-state solution of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel, almost impossible.

“Two state solution? What’s that?” Ghassan al-Khatib, a professor of political science at Bir Zeit University asked The Media Line sarcastically. “Is anybody still talking about a two-state solution? Netanyahu is behaving like all of this – Israel, Jerusalem, Area C, Area B, is part of the greater land of Israel. He is taking us towards a one state reality which is an apartheid reality.”

The bill would do the opposite for Palestinian neighborhoods which are beyond the barrier and are already divided from the rest of the city. These neighborhoods – the Shuafat refugee camp, Kafr Aqab and Anata – would become autonomous boroughs within the Jerusalem municipality. These neighborhoods contain an estimated 120,000 residents, of whom about 70,000 are permanent residents of Jerusalem.

It is likely that many Palestinian residents of these neighborhoods would also oppose the plan, as they would see it as the first step of transferring them from Jerusalem to the West Bank. These Palestinians pride themselves on their Jerusalem residency which gives them access to Israeli health care and social security.

Jerusalem analysts say that the bills, taken together, would dramatically change the character of Jerusalem.

“What we are witnessing here is very far reaching,” Daniel Seideman, an Israeli attorney specializing in geopolitical Jerusalem told The Media Line. “When you have one geographical area with different laws applying to different people, you have manifestations that are chillingly reminiscent of apartheid.”

In 1967, Israel tripled the size of its municipal boundaries and annexed east Jerusalem. That has never been recognized by the international community. While Israel says that east Jerusalem is part of its sovereign capital, Palestinians say it must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.